Good Riddance, Boys and Girls

I recently read Sam Sommers’ Situations Matter (2011). Sommers is a psychology professor, and in the book, he deftly—and humorously—details how context affects our responses. (Our sense of responsibility plummets when we’re in a crowd, for instance.)

What I find most interesting is his take on gender gaps. Turns out many gender differences are surprisingly context-dependent.

Think gender disparity in math scores is due to biological differences? You’re wrong, says Sommers, and he points to research that shows how changing the context of a math test changes the test scores.

To avoid gender stereotyping, he offers a simple tip: When addressing a group, avoid putting people into gender categories. No “Hello, boys and girls” when a teacher addresses a classroom.

I’m all for forgoing gender labels—and other labels, for that matter—especially when not everyone identifies as either a boy or girl. Further, Sommers cites research that shows kids develop stereotypes when teachers emphasize a social category—any social category.

Ever find yourself dividing people into groups? Or leaving people out of groups? I know I have, but after reading Sommers, I’m sure to be more vigilant.

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